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8 Business Trends for Trades and Contracting Pros in 2019

In 2018 we saw the rise of the online marketplace: Facebook, Google, Amazon—the big tech players got into the game, which was predicted by contributors in our 2018 trends report.

This year we’re seeing that no one single issue is dominating the narrative for business owners in the home services. Our contributors in contracting, HVAC, residential cleaning, landscaping, arboriculture, pool service, window cleaning, pressure washing, accounting, consulting, and more, have all identified trends and priorities across a variety of areas.

An important common denominator this year is the need to take a 360-degree view to growing and differentiating your business. Everything ladders up to creating a memorable service experience for customers in a crowded landscape, and it pays to take a holistic approach.

The themes of having a strong online presence, building out a team you can trust, continuously adjusting your digital marketing, and looking for automation and efficiency opportunities aren’t new—they’re table stakes. And maybe that’s the overarching theme: 2019 is the year of getting back to basics, and ensuring your business is ready to crush the year on all fronts.

– Sam Pillar, CEO, Jobber

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1. Adjust your recruitment and retention approach accordingly

One big thing for 2019 is labor issues. There have been a lot of issues with immigration and getting workers, so you’re doing more with less. A lot of landscapers I work with have not been able to find employees because they used to rely on the H-2B program (Temporary Non-Agricultural Workers) and that just got throttled. I know two companies that almost went out of business because they couldn’t hire anyone.

Doing more with less is a trend. Anything that makes labor more efficient is a hot button.

– Mike Leventry, Owner, Verdant Plant Healthcare

 

The skilled labor gap isn’t going to fix itself quickly, it will take years and years to resolve, if it ever does. It is important to look within your company at what methods of recruitment and retention you are currently using.

At the very least, come up with a mission and action plan for developing your workforce. This can include reaching out to schools, setting up your own training program, and incentives to work in your company. It is a daunting task, but once you get started much of the work falls in place.

– Greg Pilotti, Principal and Founder, Greg Pilotti Furniture Makers

 

There’s a real paradigm shift that I believe is felt in any industry in any type of role whether you’re employing more seasonal or long-term employees: People are not willing to stay in places where their personal values don’t align with the company. Everyone is looking to make an impact.

The majority of us aren’t saving lives, but we can still have an impact. You can put a smile on someone’s face, and they’ll tell a friend at a dinner party that they had a great experience with your lawn care business.

The people you want to have as employees, who are going to help build your company, are searching for a way to make an impact.

Think through the following questions:
1. Why am I asking people to be here?
2. What is our purpose as an organization?

You will win, you will scale, you will achieve revenue growth, if you take time to focus on the impact, the vision, and the culture of your business. Organizations who think those things are fluffy and don’t have a place in business will continue to operate at mediocre growth.

And customers have higher expectations than they ever have. So why not have employees that meet those changing expectations?

– Danielle Strang, Head of People Operations, Jobber

 

An identifiable and measurable recruiting system should be in place for your service business. Also, a measurable training program should be installed within your business to promote growth from within.

Our team is seeking technology that can assist with the tracking of employee training and development.

– Phil Jubert, President of Biome, Save Your Shade

2. Get your cash flow in order—before it’s too late

If you’re the owner of a contracting business and you’ve been avoiding determining and learning your numbers, 2019 is your year to step up to the plate and tackle this crucial aspect of your company. If you want to go from contractor to CEO; if you want to be more efficient, organized, profitable, and less stressed, you need to know your numbers. Why? In order to quote profitably, know when to hire, know which types of work are making you money and which aren’t… the list goes on…

Whether you’ve avoided your numbers out of fear or confusion, now is your time to tackle one of the most important tasks the CEO must do. We’re talking break-even margin, break-even sales, and setting profit targets and budgets. Knowing how to track and forecast your cash flow and having the ability to track the percentage of hours and materials against each phase of your projects will also greatly benefit you. Turn chaos into control and start making more money without all the stress and challenges! Jobber and Profit For Contractors are here to help you today.

– Andrew Houston, Founder and Owner, Business Consultant, Profit for Contractors

 

The best piece of business advice that I would tell people to put into place in 2019 is to build a safety net of six months of cash saved to cover business and personal expenses. I am not preaching gloom and doom but history has taught us that recessions occur approximately every eight years and we are now almost 11 years since our last recession. I would strongly advise to not be over-leveraged with debt and to have as much equipment, property, and vehicles paid in full as possible.

– Phil Sarros, Director of Education, Dirt Monkey University

 

Take time to work on your business. This is called CEO time. Review your business objectively. How are your initiatives stacking up to what you expected? What adjustments do you need to make? Have a set ‘core’ agenda for this review process each week and stick to it.

– Brad Halliwell, Business Coach, Halliwell Business Coaching

3. Make it easy for your customers to assess your pricing

Amazon has changed consumers’ expectations in how they purchase things. The HVAC companies that are able to streamline their sales process and publish pricing online will have a huge advantage.

Your customers are used to buying things online and having them shipped to their door overnight and it just baffles customers when they hear someone has to come to their home and spend an hour with them. They go through that three or four times to get a new furnace.

I’ve interviewed young buyers and middle-aged buyers over the last two years and 80 percent of them say they wished they could get pricing either on a website or on a phone call.

– Don Snow, Halcyon Consulting

 

One technology I’m interested in for 2019 is a proposal app. We use a price book to create handwritten proposals on the spot. Handwriting isn’t efficient, and salespeople can sometimes leave out details to cut corners.

You can use an app to create good, better, best pricing, and show the customer right away then email it to them afterward so they can make a selection.

– Van Wu, Owner, Trust Home Comfort

 

We find that most service companies give their prospects an ‘ultimatum’ when they give a quote. They don’t mean to, but what often happens is that a company will give out a single price for services that the potential customer views as a ‘take it or leave it price.’ The only way for them to get context on that pricing is to call a competitor in order to see how their pricing compares. In today’s research buying style that is typically done through email or a few text messages and ultimately the potential customer makes their decision once they have enough information that surely won’t be determined in an ‘ultimatum’ style quote.

The other type of quote that is very common in the service world is the ‘line item’ style pricing. This gives the customer more information but comes with a lot of other baggage. Often when a customer looks at a bunch of lines adding up to a single price, they feel an internal obligation to scrutinize each line and often will ask to cut a few lines off the estimate or in the end, maybe ask for a few of the line items to be “thrown in for free” so that the business can close the deal.

If you look at how customers are used to buying in today’s market, they like to choose from packages. Often this gives them all of the context they need to make a decision right away with enough options, but it also puts the emphasis on value being connected to price, rather than features to be haggled over. By laying out a ‘good, better, best’ option for customers to choose from, you’ll find that you’ll close more jobs at higher prices and your customers will thank you!

– Curt Kempton, Founder, Responsibid and Symphosize

4. Make sure you can be found where people are looking for you

The most important thing for small businesses when it comes to marketing is being found where people want to find you. You need to make sure you have your basics covered with: a Facebook page with the location info filled in, a Google My Business account with local information and service areas filled in, etc.

It’s getting harder and harder to be found and those are the basics. If you don’t have the basics covered, you don’t need to do anything else. Don’t hire anyone to do SEO on your site. Don’t hire anyone to paid ads. Start with the basics.

– Nick Keyko, Director of Marketing, Jobber

 

Social media marketing is going to be the biggest aspect to drive business growth as business owners get ready for 2019. It allows you to find isolated groups of customers to market to: Our customers are gathering themselves within Facebook groups, in online garage sale groups, on the Nextdoor app, on Instagram.

It’s now a lot easier and a lot less expensive than it used to be to get in front of and acquire new customers. Meet your customer where they’re already familiar with buying. Look for a group, look for a page to join. Maybe create your own group, so that you can isolate your customers, so that you can allow them to experience the major benefits of your business as you constantly, continually, upgrade your page with new photos and new digital content.

– Greg Brooks, CEO, Brooks Landscaping and Gleam Pressure Washing

 

In 2019, if you want your business to get noticed online, you’re going to have to work for it.

From an SEO perspective, competition for online real estate on search engines is going to increase. More of your competitors are moving online and they are getting savvier with digital marketing and their SEO efforts.

Additionally, ads take up a lot of space on the search engine results page and that won’t change. Do a quick Google Search for the services you provide in your city—whether the search is on mobile or a computer you’ll immediately see how many search ads you’re competing against. With Google rolling out Local Service Ads to more markets in 2019 it may become harder for you to compete against paid ads.

So how do you build an SEO strategy to make sure your business stands out? Focus on the fundamentals that have become so important in the last few years. If you haven’t already, claim your Google Business Listing! And once you’ve claimed your listing ensure you have a solid review strategy in place to help your listing stand out from the competition.

– Barret Hall, Senior Manager, Inbound Marketing, Jobber

5. Create processes to protect your business and keep your team safe

Continue to promote a safe work environment for employees by having morning safety meetings to point out each hazard that is on that current job.

In 2019, or any coming year for that matter, never sacrifice quality. Always apply high standards to each project.

– Justin Shideler, Founder, RTFT Outdoors Ltd.

 

For 2019, I would say that if you haven’t put any effort into developing policies and procedures that protect your business, it’s time to make that happen. I do that primarily in two ways: first is through Jobber and using it to track all parts of the process of quoting, scheduling, and performing the work. Every quote we give is turned into a signed contract through Jobber before it makes it onto our schedule, no exceptions.

Once the crew is on site to work, they check in and add photos of any pre-existing damage on site so that we won’t be blamed later. This process has saved us from numerous potential issues with clients. Although 99 percent of our customers are awesome people, there’s always that one person who can make you lose sleep at night.

The second way that we protect our business is through our formal safety program. It amazes me how many tree services show up to a job and lack the very basic safety supplies and training. Develop and implement a formal training and safety program. It takes time so don’t be discouraged, just get started and build it one step at a time. Remember when it comes to OSHA, Worksafe or any other workers compensation organization, if you don’t have a record of it, it didn’t happen.

– Gordon Field, Owner, Field’s Tree Service Inc.

 

In 2019, employers ought to prioritize their Health & Safety programming. Start by determining what kind of health and safety program benchmarks are already out there. Then use these existing standards as a litmus test to evaluate your own programs and how they adhere to regulations yet most importantly allow your team to do their jobs as safely as possible.

Integrating Jobber’s forms functionality can help employers and workers easily fulfill the workplace inspection and Job Hazard Assessment obligations often included within effective Health and Safety programs.

In 2019, Advanced Tree Care aims to finalize our multi-year endeavor to meet IHSA’s Certificate Of Recognition (COR) Standard for Workplace Health & Safety.

– Kevin Mengers, Owner, Advanced Tree Care

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6. Adopt efficiency-boosting technologies and systems

The best technology to invest in would fall into one of three possible categories: Sales, Operations, and Office. For your sales department (and your company as a whole), a very wise investment would be software that automates invoicing, estimating, routing, payments, CRM and automated communications with clients. Jobber, hands-down, is the industry leader in this area and that is why Dirt Monkey University relentlessly promotes their products and services.

For the operations side, one small, simple and super powerful piece of equipment is a powered wheelbarrow. Sure, having big machines makes doing large projects much easier but if you want a simple way to give tremendous relief to the back-breaking work your laborers perform, take away the manual wheelbarrow and replace it with a powered one. This may likely increase employee retention and morale as well.

– Phil Sarros, Director of Education, Dirt Monkey University

 

We’re going to be looking at new technology for looking at and measuring blueprints. We spend tons of time trying to measure out blueprints on our iPads, but the iPad doesn’t have a specific app to make that easy. This year, we’re going to invest in a more efficient system to handle this part of our work.

– Graham Audenart, President, Painters Enterprise

 

Automate your business as much as possible, and keep an eye on emerging technologies that help you do this. For a long time, powerful automation tools didn’t exist for small business owners—they were targeted at large businesses with big budgets.

Small businesses are now getting access to this tech for a fraction of the price, and in some ways, it’s better than enterprise level tools. Look at accounting software: at the enterprise level it’s very expensive, always needs to be updated, and it’s hard to use, with a clunky user interface. QuickBooks Online is easy to use, always up to date—and available for a fraction of the price. Software companies are now developing new tools for small businesses first, then sending them up-market, so there is more software innovation than ever in the small business space.

These automation tools are not only going to help you reduce costs, maybe you can delay hiring an administrator or a bookkeeper, but they should also give you better visibility into your business so you can operate more strategically.

– Darren Wood, Director of Finance and Operations, Jobber

 

Profit For Contractors is a big fan of helping contractors make more money with less effort. Some of the apps we recommend you check out are Trello, Google Drive, Google Calendars, QuickBooks, and of course, Jobber.

Trello and Google Drive/Calendar are free and we utilize them to create checklists as simple systems team members can easily follow in order to keep them accountable on every job/task they do. Google Drive is a great place to share and store files of every type with your team or clients and the Calendar is great for defaulting your time (so that you focus on high-value tasks first and foremost) and inform your team as to when they can come to you for help. QuickBooks is a great tool to help you with your numbers and it integrates with quite a few other apps.

Remember, it’s all about saving time, making money, and de-stressing!

– Andrew Houston, Founder and Owner, Business Consultant, Profit for Contractors

7. Create processes that increase trust and transparency

Sales is pretty much 90 percent building trust and removing as much risk as possible for buyers. A big part of that is transparency. So offering combustion analysis before and after your install proves to homeowners that their new equipment is hitting the targets that they’re buying into with higher efficiency.

If I’m telling a homeowner they should replace their furnace because it’s old and inefficient, I can produce a record proving what their old model is running at, and then when I install a new one I can do it again and show them how much it’s improved. Then they can calculate that against their utility bills.

– Don Snow, Halcyon Consulting

 

Keep ‘humanizing’ your brand. Even though we deal with machines, they’re owned by people who care to know who is behind the skills. Sell EXPERIENCES; clients already expect a perfect service at an awesome price. You cannot compete by these alone anymore, so sell feelings but do your best to make sure they’re mostly positive.

– Luisa Vesga, Vmech Mechanical

 

The economy might be slowing down over the next year, which means that demand for home services might be lower and competition will be higher. Small business owners in the home services industry should continue to improve on providing the best customer experience they can.

If they’re not regularly getting feedback or reviews from their customers, they should take this opportunity to implement a feedback process, whether it’s a simple survey, phone call, or Google review. Also, take note of what their competitors are doing to see how they compare.

– Quan Ly, Partner, CPA, McRally LLP Chartered Accountants

8. A few ideas for your 2019 equipment and technology wish list

In 2018 we expanded our shop size and grew our team. For 2019 we are budgeting to buy more equipment to keep up with production and the amount of people we have working. Some of those items include a second jointer, third table saw, and adding digital measuring devices to our existing equipment.

– Greg Pilotti, Principal and Founder, Greg Pilotti Furniture Makers

 

In 2019 RTFT plans to purchase a flat deck Dually 3500 pickup truck, a truck mount sander, a  10,000 lb capacity dump trailer, a 16-foot cargo trailer, and a skid steer.

– Justin Shideler, Founder, RTFT Outdoors Ltd.

 

Our company would like to add a high capacity chip truck and an 18″ chipper to the fleet this year. That may end up being a bit out of the budget as we just added a 60-70 forestry package to the works but we can dream. A chip truck with room to store the mini skid steer would be nice as well. Or a crane or a log truck or a roll-off truck……lots of toys on the list.

– Gordon Field, Owner, Field’s Tree Service Inc.

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